John C. Wronski, SJ, New England Province
Executive Director, Nativity Preparatory School, Jamaica Plain, MA
I grew up in Chelsea, a small city near Boston. My two brothers and I attended our parish grade school, St. Stanislaus, where we were taught by Franciscan sisters and priests. At St. Stan’s I learned the rich stories and traditions of our Catholic faith, and I began to grow in a personal relationship with Jesus, Mary and the saints. After graduating from St. Stan’s, I attended Malden Catholic High School where I was taught by the Xaverian Brothers. During my high school years, I started thinking that I would like to be a teacher and maybe even a brother or priest.
At The College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA, I took theology courses with Jesuits like Fr. William Reiser, who challenged me to question and deepen my faith. I also had my first experience of the Spiritual Exercises with Fr. Joe Labran, and many experiences of serving the poor in the Worcester area through programs sponsored by Campus Ministry. During my college years, I was challenged and inspired by liberation theology and the Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador. Teachers like Joseph Maguire and campus ministers like Kim McElaney encouraged me to dream about new, collaborative church structures that would promote peace and justice for all of God’s people, especially the poor and marginalized. By the time I finished college, I was eager to go out into the world and work as a high school teacher to help others encounter the liberating, compassionate God I had come to know and love.
For several years after college, I worked as a high school religion and English teacher in Worcester, MA. I also worked as a part time resident director in the Dean of Students Office at Holy Cross. After three years of teaching, I decided that it was time to go back to school for a masters degree. Several friends suggested that I apply to Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge where I could pursue my interest in theology and study with young Jesuits who were preparing for ordination, as well as other lay students preparing for ministry. When I arrived at Weston, I quickly realized that I had found a home. During my years as a lay student at Weston, I grew more deeply in love with God and the Church. I became a member of St. Ann University Parish in Boston where I learned about the transforming power of liturgy and parish community. I attended my first eight-day silent retreat at the Jesuit retreat house in Gloucester and met once a month with Virginia Finn, my first spiritual director. As my prayer life blossomed, my relationship with Jesus became central. My relationships with friends also deepened. I began to think more seriously about priesthood and religious life, but I was also challenged to think seriously about the place of intimate relationships in my life.
During a year of teaching and campus ministry at St. John’s Prep in Danvers (which followed my years at Weston), it became clear that God was calling me to apply to the Society of Jesus. I was accepted, and I entered the novitiate in August of 1994. My life as a Jesuit since then has been rich and rewarding. I have had opportunities to study philosophy and theology in Chicago and spirituality in Berkeley. I’ve been challenged by wonderful Jesuit friendships and community life. Best of all, I’ve had the opportunity to meet Christ in the people of God, especially in the poor and marginalized people of inner-city Boston, Chicago, Oakland, and even Kingston, Jamaica. During the past ten years, I have worked in prisons, hospitals, high schools, middle schools, colleges, parishes and retreat houses. I’ve had opportunities to preach, teach, coach, listen, pray, and console. All along I’ve had inspiring friends, mentors, and superiors who have taught me to pray, to love, to serve, and to find God in all things.
The words of my college professor, Fr.William Reiser, are an apt description of my Jesuit experience: “At the heart of all our craving lies the desire for union with God, which, Christian experience shows us, is inseparable from communion with our brothers and sisters . . . We Jesuits have the grace, the privilege, of the Father’s placing us with his Son. For a priest, to be with Jesus is, in the end, the only thing that really matters. To be with Jesus: in his poor, in his oppressed, in his outcast. To be with Jesus: in his powerlessness, his rejection, his anguish of spirit. To be with Jesus: in his confidence, his freedom, and his enthusiasm for the reign of God. We endure the wilderness because, when all is said and done, we can find God there. Not only that. It is God who draws us there, in order that we might be with God’s people who need us. The God of Jesus is with the world; we are living signs of this great mystery.”